If These Walls Had Ears

January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

501 Holly

If These Walls Had EarsTitle: If These Walls Had Ears

Author: James Morgan

Publisher: Warner Books

Length: 275 pages

“A house is man’s attempt to stave off the anarchy of nature.  Ripping up that floor had allowed a disturbing glimpse into the house’s secret life.  It’s more comfortable not to know about such things.” – pg. 88

James Morgan may have been speaking about Billie Murphree’s floor rot from undercover water, but no words used in description of a house have ever hit me harder or rung so true.

Barely two years into owning our own home, my husband ripped up our living room carpet.  We had lofty ambitions of laying tile or hardwood floors.  We had tiled the living room of a town home once and it had turned out quite nicely for the low cost of $400.  Those were the days when we thought home repair and renovation fun.  Now, it’s just a necessity.  No sooner had the carpet been pulled up, we discovered what we un-lovingly refer to as The Grand Canyon in our foundation.

Upon further inspection, the enormous crack ran from one end of the house to the other, from the outer wall where my rose and herb garden touches our driveway, through the kitchen, under the bar, across the living room, down the hallway, into the bathroom, and right out the outer wall against the side yard where I hope to make a courtyard one day.

Our House When It SnowedWe were devastated.  We had bought our dream home, except for the master bathroom which will forever irritate and haunt my poor husband, only to find that it wasn’t a dream at all.  Our dream home was a wreck, a fixer upper, a money pitt – it kind of still is.

We had $15k worth of foundation repair done at a discounted price – the company is run by a saint – literally, he’s a Gideon, and I’m quite certain he felt sorry for us.  He even gave us plenty of time to pay him off and didn’t charge us interest.  No sooner had we paid our bill in full, we discovered the breakfast room was now sliding into our back yard and had to have more foundation repair.  Our back fence, our back door, my daughter’s window, nothing in this house is safe.  It’s fragile, it’s old, it’s exhausting.  We had to dig up our front yard and repair plumbing ourselves, we’ve had work done by professionals under both bathrooms.

Oh, and our insurance company is worthless, they paid for exactly nothing.

Yes, Mr. Morgan, a home is man’s attempt to stave off the anarchy of nature.  Nature riots in many ways: mud sliding our from under our apparently unstable foundation, a shake slithering up through the crack in our living room, the rain rotting our fence, the winds of Hurricane Ike displacing our other fence and blowing out a window pane in our back door.  Our sidewalk to our mail box sunk into our front yard, a storm took down our light post.  It never ends.  It’s never over.

Despite the issues, despite the debt, despite it possibly being the biggest mistake of our married lives, I’m in love with this house.  We’ve been through ups and downs, trials and errors, hell and we’re not quite back, but it’s my home.  Technically, it belongs to the bank, but we live under the illusion that it’s ours, and the illusion has a safe feeling to it, until the next time something breaks…

“In a house you never can tell where the next trouble will erupt.  A door knob will suddenly come off in your hand.  A heating duct in the belly of the house will lose a screw and pop out of its fitting.  Even if you think you know the trouble spots, you’ll be taken by surprise.  A piece of upstairs trim will swell up and warp, and the next thing you know, the rain will be leaking in downstairs and two walls away.” – pg. 109

DSC02347Still, for whatever reason, everyone loves old houses.  I remember when we were house hunting I specifically asked for a house in an older neighborhood surrounded by trees.  “Nothing newer than the ’80’s,” I told my realtor, “No cookie cutter neighborhoods.”  “Why, oh Why?!” I inevitably cursed later when we had to shave down parts of our interior doors so we could open and close them because the house had shifted yet again.  “Why?!” we yelled when a brick just came out of our stoop, just slipped right out from under our door and lay across the porch where a welcome mat should have been.  “Why?!” we screamed when a board from our deck in front of the garage door collapsed.

Because like Morgan says,

“Old houses look like home to us.  They appeal not to our practical side but to whatever romantic part of us traffics in hopes and dreams, or wallows in nostalgia.  They’re flirts, old houses.  They get painted up real pretty – the way this house was when I first saw it – and they show off a lot of front porch and invite you in for a little French dooring, and the next thing you know, they’ve snared another sucker.” – pg. 180

Morgan’s book is endearing, nostalgic, and beautiful.  It speaks to home owners, future home owners, and anyone who has ever fallen in love with a building of any kind.  If These Walls Had Ears really speaks to my heart.  There’s even an Andi that shows up briefly and takes part in 501 Holly’s biography.  It makes you hope that in another fifty or so years someone will write a sequel to this old house’s life story.

The only part I didn’t like, despite a very beautiful quote in it, was the epilogue which summed up the lives (or the divorces and deaths, rather) of all the people who once lived in 501 Holly.  It was depressing to say the least.


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